From: Jan, Tracy [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Friday, September 23, 2016 5:42 PM
To: Gabriel, Brian A. EOP/WHO ; Rutherford, Sarah D. EOP/WHO
Cc: Tracy Jan
Subject: Pool Report #3
President Obama addressed a crowd of about 750 from the Grand Foyer of the White House during a reception for the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History.
[Please check remarks against transcript.]
“There are just so many friends here. It feels like one of our house parties," he said, giving shout outs to Lonnie Bunch, the museum director, who stood next to him and FLOTUS, as well a long list of celebrities standing before him.
A decade ago, Obama said, “Nobody had heard of this museum and now you cannot miss it. A breathtaking new building right in the heart of the national mall. And that’s what we call progress.”
He acknowledged the living history in the room, icons of the entertainment industry like Quincy Jones and Phylicia Rashad, the first black woman in space, Mae Jemison, "the woman who owns the universe" Oprah Winfrey, and, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, "drum majors for justice" like civil rights leaders John Lewis and Rev. Jesse Jackson as well as the next generation of black leaders Deray McKesson and Brittany Packnett. And his "personal hero," Harry Belafonte.
"This is about people who for more than a century advocated and organized and raised funds and donated artifacts so that the story of the African American experience can take its rightful place in our memory. It's a story that’s full of tragedy and setbacks, but also great joy and great victories. And it's a story that is not just part of the past but it is alive and well today, in every corner of America. And that’s certainty true today in this house, a house that was built by slaves.”
The museum, he said, is more than just about telling stories of the famous. "It's not just about the icons" like Harriet Tubman, Dr. King and Muhammad Ali.
"What makes the museum so powerful, so visceral, is that it’s the story of all of us," Obama said. "It’s the maids who decided you know what, I'm tired of segregation and I'm going to walk for my freedom. . . . You see it in the dignity of the artifacts that are in the museum. . . That quiet determined dignity and hope.”
He said the museum is a testament to those who stood up when it was risky, when it was unpopular, and managed to change the world.
“You know, the timing of this is fascinating,” Obama said, as the crowd laughed and applauded. “Because in so many ways, it is the best of times, but in many ways these are also troubled times. History doesn't always move in a straight line. And without vigilance, we can go backwards as well as forwards.”
He said the timing of the museum opening allows Americans "to put our current circumstances in a historical context."
When Americans sees what's happening in Tulsa and Charlotte on television and visit the museum, they may say, "I understand. I sympathize. I empathize. I can see why folks might be angry and I want to be part of the solution as opposed to resisting change.”
"My hope is that black folks watching those same images on television and then seeing the history represented in this museum can say to themselves the struggles we’re going through today is connected to the past, and yet all that progress tells me that I cannot and will not sink into despair. Because if we join hands and we do things right, if we maintain our dignity and continue to appeal to the better angels of this nation, progress will be made."
When he reads his 10 letters a day from constituents and some ask him why he's always against the police while others ask why he's not doing more about police mistreatment of black citizens, he said, “I understand the nature of that argument because this is a dialogue we’ve been having for 400 years. And the fact of the matter is one of the challenges we have in generating a constructive discussion about how to solve these problems is what people see on television and what they hear on the radio is bereft of context and ignores history. So people are just responding as if none of what’s represented in this museum ever happened."
“When I imagine children -- white, black, Latino, Asian, Native American -- wandering through that museum and sitting at that lunch counter and imaging what it would be like to stand on that auction block and then also looking at Shaq’s shoes and Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac, my hope is that this complicated difficult sometimes harrowing but I believe ultimately triumphant story will help us talk to each other. And more important, listen to each other, and even more important, see each other. And recognize the common humanity that makes America what it is.
"So that’s a lot of weight to put on one institution."
In the hour leading up to Obama's remarks, civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who has called for the creation of an African American museum in Washington since he joined Congress in 1988, posed for pictures in the foyer with the many other celebrities assembled.
Also spotted among the guests: actor Octavia Spencer, actor Lou Gossett Jr., actor Laurence Fishburne, actor Samuel L. Jackson, singer Janelle Monae, basketball player Kobe Bryant, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Al Sharpton, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.
THE BOSTON GLOBE, Washington Bureau